First published on 12 Dec 2011. Updated on 3 Jan 2012.
The Gray Lady lifts her skirt for all to see, with mixed results, in Andrew Rossi’s year-in-the-life documentary. Granted unprecedented access to the Times’ media desk, the director, acting as a one-man crew, followed the day-to-day operations of this equally venerated and scorned institution – now even more beleaguered in the age of New Media.
It’s engrossing viewing in the moment. We get to see many of the paper’s stories (WikiLeaks; the Tribune Company mismanagement) from inception to completion, and Rossi fascinatingly compares and contrasts the reporters’ methods: Tech-savvy journo Brian Stelter is perpetually plugged-in – he’s on the WikiLeaks Iraq War footage (“Collateral Murder”) while its YouTube hits are still in the low digits. His seeming opposite is the great David Carr, a weathered scribe with quick instincts – we watch him pungently dress down an editor at Vice during one tense news-gathering session – but a slow-burn approach. “I still can’t get over the feeling that Brian Stelter was a robot assembled in the Times basement to destroy me,” he quips of his Facebook- and Twitter-promoting friend. Half jest? Half requiem?
There’s a strong sense during much of the doc that the Times’ future is bleak. At one point, then-executive editor Bill Keller offers a sobering appraisal of the paper’s many failures, invoking names like Blair and Miller with how-could-we wistfulness, while squirming about upcoming layoffs. You wish Rossi could have maintained this stiff-drink ambivalence throughout. But the film is too often presumptively pie-eyed about the Times’ bastion-of-reportage rep (this is especially evident whenever the perspective shifts away from Carr, whose world-weariness perfectly counterbalances the film’s tendency to casually lionise the fourth estate). And the falsely euphoric close is a big misstep – Pulitzers, it would seem, are the ultimate Band-Aid. What was that old adage about printing the legend?
Madman, DVD RRP $29.95
David Carr on Page One: Inside the New York Times